Football is contested over 90 minutes, and the possibility that a game can be won or drawn through perseverance and prowess in the few minutes of injury time afforded each game adds to the excitement and unpredictable nature that characterises the contest. What simply detracts from these qualities is the new handball ruling that is changing the outcomes of games, most often in stoppage time.
The new set of clarifications stipulate an accidental handball is only to be penalised if it happens immediately before a goal, and that any handball below the bottom of the armpit is to be punished. However, as observed by The Independent, “The Premier League – and crucially, the FA – seems to interpret the rule slightly differently and far more harshly regarding defenders.”
“The Premier League appears to ignore the unnatural position ruling, focusing far more on the bottom of the armpit update. It is all well and good ensuring that attacking players will not gain an advantage, but now it appears that accidental handball for a defensive player will not be tolerated in any shape or form. Attacking players simply need to strike the ‘golden zone’ below the armpit and, in this modern world with VAR in place, they will be awarded a penalty.”
Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson has been the most vocal in advocating his distaste for the law, which he described as “nonsense”, and for all the sentiments he provided, with which I couldn’t agree more, he outlines two very specific areas of frustration that accompany the rule. The frustration around non-credible penalties not reflecting the course of the 90 minute game, and the frustration of the outcome itself, from a points and result perspective.
“I’m always disappointed when a good game of football between two good teams, which probably should have finished as a fairly evenly contested draw, now means that one team goes away with three points and the other with zero. Of course, the winner leaves knowing full well it shouldn’t have been a penalty and the loser goes away thinking ‘we played well enough but this sort of penalty has robbed us of any points in the game’’
“I just find it very disappointing that the game I love and believe in is being reduced to this level where every week, games are being decided on so-called penalty decisions for handball which aren’t handball.
This two-fold frustration is especially two fold if you are watching both as a soccer fan and bettor. From a sporting fan’s perspective there is nothing that riles me more than an injustice misrepresenting the course of the game. Not just in soccer. I think back to Bismarck Du Plessis’ red card for a perfectly executed legal tackle on Dan Carter in the Rugby Championship between the All Blacks and Springboks, which ultimately robbed the viewer of the spectacle they deserved and robbed the Springboks of a win they deserved. I moped around the house for a day, and at 13 years old I didn’t even have money on the game. Seven years later and my feelings towards unfair penalties changing the outcome and misrepresenting the process of a game are only compounded by the fact that I now often have educated wagers placed on these games. Cue part-two of Hodgson-acknowledged-frustration: unfairness dictating the ultimate result.
Mourinho’s ever-more clinical looking Tottenham lost 3 league points by drawing in stoppage time thanks to yet another VAR awarded handball penalty. This just a day after Manchester United were afforded the same luxury over Brighton. After 90 minutes, Spurs led 1-0, but perhaps more telling are the following statistics, provided by Squawka Football. Over the course of these 90 minutes Mourinho’s men had 23 attempted shots to Newcastle’s six, 12 of which were on target in comparison to Newcastle’s one. They also had 37 touches in Newcastle’s box, nearly triple Newcastle’s 14 in theirs, and were projected at 2.96 ‘non-penalty goals to Newcastle’s 0.23. With the handball penalty that was not a handball by any stretch of the imagination if one is to consider intent and positioning, Newcastle’s draw has now afforded them more league points (four) than shots on target (three). In assessing all of this, is 1-1 at 95 minutes a fair reflection of the game? I think not.
Beyond the frustrations of an educated six-leg accumulator bet being quite frankly unfairly ended in its second last game, the nature of the new handball law concerns me. It is concerning because it allows for an incredibly easy alley through which to milk a penalty, as Newcastle showed in the dying minutes of the match. Players are now hoofing it into the box above the midriff and appealing immediately for a hand ball review when the ball is deflected. It is appearing to become a bit of a last-grasp win-win situation as the offensive team either retains possession from their pass, scores or simply appeals a review for a handball.
If a tactic is to be built around a ruling that lacks in credibility, it’s a sad day for soccer. And beyond intentions, if this ruling continues to dictate the ultimate outcome of matches and undo the back and forth that characterises 90 minutes, it is a disservice to the nature of sport.